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Top 7 Concerns of Young Farmers
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted a roundtable of young and beginning farmers at Iowa State University on August 17. As the men and women shared their stories and concerns, several themes stuck out. Here are seven of the biggest challenges facing young and beginning farmers.
1. Land is not available.
All the young and beginning farmers expressed frustration with not being able to afford land – if you can even find it for sale.
“Land accessibility is a challenge, and it’s not getting easier,” said Vilsack. “It’s extra difficult for young and beginning farmers to have access to land. Renting is one thing, but buying is another. You would have to hit the lottery if you wanted to do that.”
Many beginning farmers start with livestock, and finding access to pasture is a problem since a lot of it was ripped up to plant corn during the most recent boom years.
2. Landowners want to rent to large farmers.
We need landowners to rent to smaller farmers and offer flexible leases or crop-share arrangements, said several farmers. Most landlords don’t want to mess with anything except cash-renting to large operators.
3. CRP rates are too high.
One young farmer lost 500 acres he’d been renting when a landowner put it into the Conservation Reserve Program for $350 an acre. The young farmer couldn’t compete with the government payment. He suggested that CRP rates be adjusted more frequently to keep up with changing cash rent rates.
4. Weed control is a growing problem.
When a farm goes into the wetlands program, the land is basically abandoned, and invasive weeds like Palmer Amaranth and thistles take over and spread to neighboring fields, said one farmer. There was discussion about mowing and other methods of weed control on CRP land, and Vilsack agreed more information needed to be shared with landowners.
5. Not enough help from USDA.
Several young farmers said their local USDA offices do not have enough staff to help them. Often, help was needed with government programs outside of corn and soybean production.
“The next time you are in the coffee shop and hear talk about less government, keep that in mind,” said Vilsack. “My budget is less than it was when I came in as Secretary. At the end of the day, it’s not realistic for me to tell you we are going to have more people to help.”
6. Water quality improvements are expensive.
We can’t make every improvement to the land and waterways recommended when we have limited budgets, said several young farmers at the roundtable.
Vilsack’s response: “This state needs to make a major commitment to water. It’s been delayed far too long.”
7. Not enough processing facilities for meat.
One farmer who direct markets pork, beef, rabbits, poultry, and lamb had trouble finding a local meat processing facility that could meet the regulations required. Rabbits and poultry, especially, are unusual for most local lockers. Farmers are innovative, he said, but often run into bottlenecks down the chain.
Vilsack said, “We are aware of the processing issue and looking at it, but all it takes is one food-safety issue and we’re in trouble. It’s tough.”
Vilsack said upcoming conversations about the next Farm Bill “will begin in earnest soon” and he hopes they will address some of these concerns from young farmers. Now is the time.
“We will see a significant shift in land ownership in the next 10 years.”